Bill C-376 Second Reading Speech
Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Critic
I rise today to speak, as critic, to Bill C-376, an Act to designate the month of April as Sikh Heritage Month. At nearly 500,000, Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside of India. As such, April is proclaimed as Sikh Heritage Month in the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
It is believed that Kesur Singh, a Major in the British India Army, was the first Sikh to settle in Canada after arriving in Vancouver with a group of Sikh military officers in 1897. And, by 1906, there were approximately 1,500 Sikhs living in Canada.
In 1911, the first Gurdwara in North America, the Gur Sikh Temple, was built in Abbotsford, British Columbia welcoming Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike from across the province to the opening event.
This type of welcoming spirit was not unique. Inclusiveness forms a part of Sikh heritage, as does their promotion of human rights.
Further, from the emergence of Sikhism, the Sikh rejected caste-based discrimination, a cultural and religious system whereby people are seen as having more or less value and dignity based on their birth, in favour of universal human equality.
Names were an indicator of caste background. Therefore, in order to remove those discriminatory indicators Guru Gobind Singj assigned the last name “Singh” to Sikh men and “Kaur” to Sikh women, thereby eliminating caste background in furtherance of equality.
Not only did early Sikhs fight against discrimination, they also stood up for freedom of religion for everyone, not solely for those who shared their faith.
Known as advocates for equality, one of the strengths of Sikh communities’ lies in how supportive they are of one another.
With social equality in mind, Langar was established as a place where Sikhs and members of other faiths would come together, regardless of their social station or background, to enjoy a free meal at a Gurdwara.
I have very fond memories of being in a Gurdwara in Brampton, Ontario sharing a meal with members of the Sikh community and people of many ethnicities, cultures and walks of life.
In Sikhism men and women are viewed as two sides of the same human coin. In 1499, the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak, purportedly opined that it is women who keep the race going – that we should not consider women as lesser – as from women, are born leaders and kings.
According to the principles of Sikhism, women have the same souls as men and can participate in all religious, cultural, social, and secular activities.
Guru Nanak was the first to proclaim the equality of men and women and Sikh history portrays women as equals to men in service, sacrifice, bravery and devotion.
Many immigrant populations in Canada admire the Sikh community for their commitment to remaining in touch with their language and culture. They have been at the forefront in the struggle for the right to bear their religious symbols.
Sikhs have made a significant contribution to the Canadian economy and are represented in all professional fields.
As Senator Marwah eloquently said: “The story of the Sikh community in Canada is, in fact, just a story of Canada. It is a story of brave soldiers who fought in both world wars to defend democracy. It is a story of early settlers and pioneers who worked in agricultural lands, mines, lumber mills, and the railroads. It is a story of entrenching equality, fairness and justice in this land. It is a story of becoming contributing members in all walks of life, whether it be in business, arts, sports, media, philanthropy and politics.”
I would like to thank Suk Dhaliwal, Member of Parliament for Surrey-Newton who introduced C-376 in the House of Commons, as well as Senator Sabi Marwah for his role as sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
As MP Dhaliwal said at second reading in the House: “The history of Sikhs in Canada is a story of compassion, hard work, persistence and giving back.” Honourable Senators, I support this bill and ask that you do so as well.